All the great stories follow the same basic archetypes, and the most used is the hero vs. the villain. It is a classic tale of good vs. evil culminating in the story’s protagonist overcoming all the odds and conquering the dastardly bad guy, thus, restoring whatever right balance was knocked out of place. Professional wrestling has built a billion-dollar entertainment empire on these concepts. The typical wrestling match consists of a good guy/lady/faction, called a babyface, competing against a not so good foe, called a heel. Some of the best workers in history were heel, whether it be Ric Flair or Triple H or Mr. McMahon himself. The best heels in the business are unforgiving in their methods; they lie and cheat and bend every rule to its breaking point. They don’t care what you think about them and relish the hate they receive. They want you not to like them, and they gain happiness, knowing they make you miserable with their success. Right now, it feels like a lot of the best heels in the sports world are right here in Houston.
The heel’s primary job in a match is to make sure the audience knows they are the bad guy. The heel lies, cheats, snarls, insults, laughs with a smug over-confidence and engages in all nefarious activity they can to ensure the win. Sometimes a heel is created out of desperation; they have tried everything they can, but nothing has worked. Sometimes a heel is designed out of opportunity; the big, bad boss offers them their wildest dreams, and all they have to do is become one of the bad guys. The only things that matter to the heel are being the best, and it doesn’t matter who they have to step on to get there. Eddie Guerrero came out to a song that told people exactly what Eddie was all about: “I lie, I cheat, I steal.” Seth Rollins won his first title by turning his back on the crew he came up with to align with the evil bosses who rewarded his new loyalty to them by helping him get and win, a shot at said title. Some heels, however, are born of success. They do things outside of the norm in comparison to their peers, and they do it at an extremely high level. This non-conforming success leads to the train of thought that if they are doing things differently, then they must be doing something illegal.
James Harden should be one of the most popular players in basketball, but instead, he might be basketball’s most hated player. You can’t watch a game with Harden in it that doesn’t contain some combination of the following:
-He hunts for fouls
-He manipulates the rules
-He doesn’t play the way the game is supposed to be played
Since joining the Houston Rockets, James Harden has been one of the most dominant forces in the NBA. He has made the All-Star team in every season he has been a Rocket (8 total). He was the MVP of the league in 2017 and has gotten 2nd place on three other occasions. (Many Rockets fans will tell you that the media has screwed him out of at least 1, and possibly two other MVP awards). He has won Player of the Month 9 times in 5 years, Player of the Week 24 times since 2012, and the Rockets have never missed the playoffs in his tenure. Harden averaged 36 points per game last season, which was the most since Michael Jordan averaged 37 ppg in 1987. He followed that up by averaging 35 ppg this year. James is not treated like Michael. MJ was universally revered. Some credit the Golden Age of Basketball directly to him and his heroics. James Harden is not universally revered. In fact, if you go outside the city of Houston, James Harden is universally reviled. People seem to think that every step he takes is a travel, that every drive is another attempt to get free throws instead of making a bucket, and that every step-back 3 is directly spitting in the face of the NBA rulebook. Even Harden’s contemporaries in the game seem to have a disrespect to Harden’s game. James Harden is the NBA’s best heel, and his running mate, Russell Westbrook, might be number 2. Russell started off as the good guy when he stayed in Oklahoma City to finish what he started. At the same time, Kevin Durant booked it for the same Golden State Warriors team that had just won 79 games and knocked him out of the playoffs (In case you have been living under a rock or just don’t watch basketball, Kevin Durant going to Golden State is the same thing as Rocky deciding to join communist Russia because he was scared he could never beat Ivan Drago). Russell put the city on his shoulders and carried them in a way only he can, becoming the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double since Oscar Roberston and then following it up by averaging a triple-double again the next year. However, NBA fans began to turn on Russell. They said he played too wild, that he was a ball-hog and a stat-padder. They said he cared more about himself than bettering the team. They said Russell shot too much for a lousy shooter and didn’t trust his teammates enough for a guy that is supposed to facilitate the offense. Last year was the culmination of all this, ending in another first-round exit and seeing Paul George book it for the LA Clippers via a trade demand. Russell watched his star fall from the loveable player that stayed through thick and thin for his city to the ball-hogging stat padder that no one wanted to play with. No one, that is, except his life-long friend James Harden. And what could be more heel than two of the NBA’s bad guys joining in Houston?
Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni has always been an offensive guru. He is a bit of an NBA scoring Rocket scientist (no pun intended). His Phoenix Suns teams of the early 2000s were some of the most entertaining basketball teams of all time. When he first became the Rockets head coach, he moved James Harden to point guard and said he would average 15 assists per game. (James said coach is crazy and then went ahead and averaged 11.2). Mike is also a known experimenter. He is always tinkering with his system to try and make it as efficient as possible, which is perfect, because his General Manager is one of the most devoted analytical minds in the game. Daryl Morey listens to numbers, and the numbers don’t lie. Three points are more than two points, and shots at the rim are easier to make than shots further away. Thus, the Rockets are known for two things: driving to the rim and shooting 3s. The Rockets have set the record for 3 pointers attempted every year for the last 3 years. Last year they averaged 45 3-point attempts per game (The Atlanta Hawks averaged less than 1 per game in 1979). Every year the Rockets shoot more 3’s, and every year people complain more and more about their style. The most common complaint is that its unwatchable basketball consisting of James Harden dribbling until he drives for a foul, kicks out to someone for 3, or steps back and takes a 3 of his own. Enter Russell Westbrook. The Rockets this year want to play fast. They want to run. They want to score people out of the building. And yes, they want to shoot 3s. They shipped Center Clint Capela to Atlanta around the trade deadline to go all-in on their system. They no longer have a traditional big man, but instead, five wing players who can, you guess it, shoot 3’s. The small ball Rockets were met to a wave of concern from traditional NBA minds, but the Rockets don’t care. They play the way they want and don’t care what you think about the style. They have gone all-in on changing the NBA landscape and want everyone to notice. They’ll bend every rule to gain every advantage to earn every extra point they can. When asked how the team would defend other NBA teams that employed the traditional basketball line-up, Daryl Morey replied: “How are they going to defend us?” The heel doesn’t care what you do because he knows he’s going to do anything he can to make your life miserable.
Cheating is part of baseball. It has been since the sport has existed. Spitballs have been banned, scuffed balls have been confiscated, cork bats have been broken, and steroids brought baseball back on the American forefront. You are hard-pressed to find a decade in baseball’s history that didn’t involve some sort of cheating scandal. The Houston Astros were found to be cheaters in 2017 when they developed a complex system of sign stealing that consisted of whistles and banging trash cans. The aftermath to this scandal coming to light has been anywhere on the spectrum from apathy to downright madness. The internet has turned into detectives overnight, breaking down as much footage as possible in an attempt to find every nuance they can to show the Astros cheated more than was let on. Did they have buzzers under their shirts? Did they steal signs on the road? Did they steal a World Series trophy? Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, it’s safe to say that if you’re not a born and raised Astros fan, you probably hate their guts today. Seemingly overnight, they went from a team full of loveable stars like Jose Altuve and George Springer to a team full of scummy low lifes lead by Jeff Luhnow. The public in general had already begun turning on Luhnow. He wasn’t a baseball guy in the traditional sense; he was a numbers guy. One of Jeff’s first moves in Houston was to fire virtually everyone in the scouting department. Jeff looked at players as assets and numbers, not as people. He acquired closer Roberto Osuna at the deadline in 2018 amidst his suspension for a pending domestic violence charge. This is when the tide officially shifted towards Houston as the bad guys. Fans around the league and many in Houston’s base were shocked by the acquisition. Osuna reflected the team’s culture as one of winning over everything. They didn’t care that he was under investigation for assaulting his wife; they only cared that he was an excellent closer. Fast forward to the 2019 playoffs when Brandon Taubman, an assistant to Luhnow, was found to have yelled, “Thank God we got Osuna” to a group of female reporters in the Houston Clubhouse after a game. The subsequent non-apology and then delayed apology solidified Houston’s new public persona. We care about us, we care about winning, and we don’t care about what you think about it. When Mike Fiers spoke to The Athletic about the sign-stealing he was a part of on the 2017 team, the match was thrown onto the powder keg and the Houston hate exploded. The last 3 months have been nothing but unbridled rage by non-Astros fans toward the team. Players on other teams have called the Astros everything from a disgrace to weak to insinuating that the entire team needs to get a beating. The city council of LA voted to ask that Major League Baseball award them the 2017 World Series because the Astros cheated them out of it. Baseball twitter has talked about the Astros non-stop since the original Athletic article came out. So what do you do when you have everyone hating you? You give them even more reason to do so. Owner Jim Crane said at the opening of spring training that the sign-stealing the team performed didn’t affect the outcome of games. (Classic heel move to discredit how much of an advantage you created outside of just being the best). Carlos Correa basically cut a WWE promo in response to Cody Bellinger’s comments, not commenting on the sign stealing, but instead, calling Bellinger out for a sub-par World Series performance. The 2020 Houston Astros are beginning to embrace their role as the bad guys.
The best heels in the game relish being a bad guy. They embrace it and play into it and exaggerate it. They love being hated. The fans of Houston teams are accustomed to being disrespected. Turn on most sports networks, and you’ll see plenty of talk about the happenings in LA and New York and Boston and Dallas. Houston coverage seems to be nothing but negative nowadays. The Astros are cheaters, James Harden is ruining basketball, Bill O’Brien is a power-hungry football coach who is also a horrible coach and so on and so on. Houston sports fan has dealt with it for years. This year, however, is the year to embrace the hate. This is the year to saunter like a heel. This is the year to sneer like a villain. This is the year to puff your chest out and tell everyone that you know you’re hated, and you love that feeling. This is the year to really shove it in everyone’s faces by winning the whole thing with a system of basketball everyone hates or by raising another trophy on the back of generational talents while everyone else stews in their wondering of whether or not you cheated again. This is the year to make the full heel turn across all of Houston sports, Say hello to the bad guy.
Editors Note: If you want to wear an Astros World Order shirt like how @mrmisterbobbyb1 is modeling in our featured image. You can get yours at ApolloHOU.com